Suburbicon Movie Primer and Explanation

I personally did not enjoy watching Suburbicon. I didn’t find it enjoyable. I didn’t have fun watching it… like any at all. But oh how I loved the movie Suburbicon. Eh? But that doesn’t even make any sense whatsoever I hear you yelling at your phone screen. But wait, I’ll get to that.

If you don’t know, Suburbicon is an allegorical tale of a movie written by Gran Heslov and George Clooney. (They gave the Coen brothers a by-line as well, but their story was written years before and basically abandoned to a total rewrite by Clooney and Heslov. Seems like hokey marketing that the Coen brothers are listed as the writers to me.) It’s sort of an absurdist, satire about the insidiousness of racism throughout white America. Ok? That is the 200,000 foot view. But it’s also medicine. It is not a fun medicine. But maybe it’s a good medicine?

Alright, normally, I tell you to go watch the movie in question. I play a trailer. You go watch it and then come back and we discuss the movie in detail. Spoilers and all. I am not actually recommending this particular movie. So no, if a full tilt racial inequality allegory about the cancer in hearts and minds of the privileged doesn’t sound fun to you (and to be honest, who would that sound fun to?) then, don’t go see this movie. But also, don’t ruin the movie by continuing down the page. I would like to be respectful to Clooney and Heslov and the work that they put into this film.

Here, this might paint the movie in a different light. Clooney got paid $50,000 over two years for making this movie. He didn’t get any back end residuals. He just believed that it was a movie that his name, and his privilege would allow him to make, and that there were few, if any, that would be able to make a movie like this. And so he felt obligated to make the movie. Which, truth be told, puts Clooney in a new level of respect for me. That he would take his entertainment cache and parlay it into something like this? Pardon me while I stand and slow clap for the guy.

The Events Overview of Suburbicon

If you didn’t understand the movie Suburbicon, this is where we need to start. We will begin by walking through the whats of what happened. You can’t understand the why without understanding the whats. So what happened in Suburbicon? First, you have to understand that Suburbicon has two distinct storylines. Storyline #1 is the Mayers’ story. They are the new African American family to move into Suburbicon, and they are not welcome. Their story is simple enough as it is linear. It goes from shock, to awe, to disdain, to outright anger and hate. It is constant and it is perpetually escalating. And not only that, but it is all happening at the house next door to the Lodge’s residence. Ok? Storyline one. Simple enough.

Storyline #2 follows the Lodge family. It all begins with a violent attack on the Lodge family. Gardner and Rose Lodge, their son Nicky, and aunt Margaret are visited by two violent felons, and Mrs. Lodge ends up dead. Something just doesn’t feel right about the attack, at least for me when I saw it go down. Hrmmm. I say to myself. But I hadn’t quite figured out yet. But soon it becomes clear the Gardner and Margaret are in on it… they have hired two men to kill Rose. Margaret stays on because “Nicky needs a mother…” And after the initial attack proceeds possibly the world’s slowest next 45 minutes of film history. But we start to realize that Margaret and Gardner are planning on the insurance money for Rose’s death.

But soon problems begin unraveling things for Gardner and Margaret. The first is that Nicky is realizing more and more what is happening. The second is that the police are digging a little to diligently and the case is actually progressing quite a bit more than anyone realized it would. And finally, a nosey insurance claim agent begins nosing around the case because it “stinks” to high heaven.

So when Bud Coooper, the insurance agent comes back to talk to Gardner, Bud tells him he wants all of the insurance money or he is going to the police with the story about how he and Margaret had killed Rose. “If I killed Rose, why wouldn’t I have you killed too?” “Well you wouldn’t do that because a missing insurance agent investigating a claim would be incredibly suspicious! AHHHH!” And he begins yelling because Margaret had already put lye in the agents coffee. Body count, Two. So Gardner goes to dispose of Bud and his car, and Margaret makes little Nicky a lye sandwich, which, he obviously doesn’t eat because he isn’t stupid. And while Gardner is gone, one of the original contract hitmen comes and kills Margaret. Body count, three.

Thinking on his feet earlier Nicky contacted his uncle and tells him to come, that they are going to kill him. And sure enough, while Margaret’s (and Rose’s) murder is trying to get Nicky out from under the bed, Nicky’s uncle kills the murderer. Body count, four. Only glitch? During the altercation, Nicky’s uncle was stabbed in the back and dies. Body count, five. And on the way back from getting rid of the car and Bud’s body, Gardner sees the other murderer, only to watch him crash into an oncoming fire engine racing over to the chaos happening at the Mayer’s house. Body count, six. And when Gardner gets back to the house he spends his time threatening Nicky and eating the boy’s peanut butter sandwich and milk… and in the process, killing himself. Body count, seven.

Then thread one and thread two get connected when Nicky leaves the house full of dead idiots, and goes and plays catch with his next door neighbor.

Sure But What Does Suburbicon Mean?

So did you catch all the whats? Great. Now, what about all the whys? I for one sat and stared at the screen when Suburbicon ended and just stared. “What?” But then slowly it just started to click. Slowly I realized what it was that Suburbicon was trying to say to my dense brain.

Remember, we have two things happening in this movie. We have an African American family that is suffering through endless rounds of racism and trying attacks. The Mayers are keeping a stiff upper lip and not letting the town of Suburbicon know that their ignorance is getting to them. But it is the entire town’s focus. Everyone in the town is staring at the cause of all the chaos and the trouble… the Mayers. The whole city is focusing all of their spare time on them.

Then 30 feet across the lawn we have Gardner Lodge who is attempting to get away with killing his own wife, and to collect the insurance money. And we have a downward spiral of actual chaos. We have seven bodies piled up at the end. We have no limit of evil happening right under the town’s nose. Gardner is the town. Even Margaret took part in kicking Mrs. Mayer from local grocery store by raising the prices of all the products in the store. They were not just complicitly involved, they were actively involved in this racism.

But WHAT DOES IT MEAN!?

Need it put to you more pointedly? Even when we white, entitled individuals believe we aren’t being racist, we are being the most racist we could possibly ever be. By allowing the gaze of our attention to stare at black kids walking through a book store we are subjecting these innocent guys to racism. By sidestepping any fault in our own communities and allowing generic blame to stick to the ‘Asians’ down the street? Really? All the while we are, behind closed doors, murdering our wives, collecting the insurance settlements, and fleecing the moral high ground of our community?!? Seriously?

Racism is nothing more than fear. Fear of the unknown. Racists are afraid of losing jobs to unknown forces. Racists are afraid of the future. Racists are decidedly scared of anything and everything. What they don’t understand is that these are just excuses to our own issues and limitations. But if you were to forcefully integrate these racists with their fear they would quickly realize this isn’t a fear worth harboring.

Maybe we, (the white we), should look in the mirror for country’s problems before we start looking for others to blame. Maybe?

Overall Opinion of Suburbicon

Like I said, the first hour and 20 minutes were boring as all get out. It was disjointed. It was bizarre. But when the fireworks start going off I was laughing out loud to watch these dumb white folks and their downward devolution. It was fantastic film. And when I finally had that aha! moment it made it all worth while. So while I’m not recommending this a THinc. Recommendation I do think it is an interesting and very worth while movie. There are those sorts of movies you know. And this? This is one of them.

But more importantly… what do you think it meant? What were your thoughts?

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One Response

  1. Aristotle

    My gratitude goes to you for this primer. I appreciate your candor. It’s awful to watch a movie you don’t enjoy but have to finish just because you were hooked into a rabbit hole you cannot just walk away from. There are these kinds of movie that are just awkward and/or ugly and I would rather not have watched it. A bad example is Natural Born Killers because I actually did enjoy that in a black humor kinda perspective…. but it was an ugly movie about the ugly side of humanity. And, preferably, when I’m having my mind bent, I’d rather be watching something pretty. Like Inception.

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